Four Ways to Tell if Your Professor Is Talking About Something Important

by Amanda Cross

Keeping up with a college lecture could be an Olympic sport. Some students are so afraid of missing something important that they write down everything. But this can be dangerous, as it means there’s lots of extraneous fluff to dig through later.

Save yourself time and effort: look for auditory and visual cues that your professors use to signify importance. Star or highlight them in your notes and set yourself up for study success later on. Each professor will have different cues for signifying importance, depending on their lecture style, but the following indicators will usually let you know that your professor is talking about something important.

1. Your professor says, “This is important”

It might seem obvious. But in the middle of a long lecture, it can be easy to miss these three little words. Remember, most professors don’t want to trip you up or make things difficult for you; they want you to learn and be a successful student in their course. If something is important, they will likely tell you so right away.

There are other words your professor might use to indicate importance, like critical, essential, necessary, key, crucial, vital, etc. So make sure to listen for those as well.

2. Your professor writes something on the board

Chalkboards and whiteboards are being slowly phased out in the classroom, so if a professor feels the need to write something down during the lecture (especially if they use lecture slides or mainly talk during class), you should consider that an important topic.

Often professors will often make other visual cues when writing on the board such as underlying or putting stars next to concepts they write down. You should also jot down these same markings in your notes.

3. Your professor makes deliberate changes to the regular font of lecture slides

When a professor makes deliberate changes to any part of your lecture slide, they do so to signify importance. Most lecture slides follow a similar basic formula: a certain font size for the headings and a certain font size for the body. If something stands out, it’s probably important.

Here are some things to look out for:

  • Font changes
  • Font size changes
  • Bolded text
  • Underlined text

You’ll also want to examine how many lecture slides are devoted to a particular topic. If one issue gets five out of the 20 lecture slides you cover that day, chances are it’s an important topic.

4. Your professor repeats something or lingers on a subject for a while

If you spend two weeks talking about the same thing, it’s probably going to come up on your exam.  Likewise, if your professor keeps repeating the same thing over and over, they want to make sure that you have it written down and that you have put some stars next to it.

Look back over your notes and pick out the subject that you spent the most time on. Professors have perfected their lecture (sometimes over the course of years), so if they spend a lot of time on a subject, they do so for a reason.

It may seem that professors ramble or include too many anecdotes about a topic, but you should never assume that your professors just like to tell a bunch of stories and waste your time. Lectures are the product of careful planning, and most of the information included is probably valuable. But recognizing the cues that say “this will be on the final” can save you serious time and effort when midterm and finals season roll around.

They’ll also help you hone in on the perfect topic for your final paper. When you do, make sure that your citations are as sharp as your content. Learn how to cite a book or website, see a parenthetical citation example and much more on Citation Machine’s Resources pages. And don’t forget to use our simple citation generator to make the formatting a cinch!